Sunday, March 17, 2024

2024 Twenty Mule Team 100 - Lucy Trumbull

March 14 2024
Lucy Trumbull

Sometimes it seems like the more I do something the less it feels like I know how to do it. Riding Squee has brought new and different challenges to long-distance riding, and 20 Mule Team - whilst familiar - was no different. This was my 8th time riding the 100 miler (with Squee and I doing the 60 and the 65 milers here the last couple of years).

It didn't start off well when Squee managed to slice open his head in the trailer in the first 30 minutes while we were on our way over to fetch Ranger and Annette. After a quick inspection of the bleeding flap, we glopped on some desitin and shut him in the middle stall of the trailer where he wouldn't be able to do any more damage. We made it to Ridgecrest with no flat tires or the trailer lights failing - and dodged the worst of the weather on the way down. Carefully parked the trailer to maximize its wind-breaking capacity, and installed both horses on the lee side (thankful that I've got spring ties on both sides). We were even close enough to the faucet and had a hose so that we were able to fill water buckets without much heavy lifting - a bonus, given that Squee pooped in his water bucket, twice, (presumably due to turning his butt to the wind), before I gave up and put a water container on the ground, slightly to one side.

Friday was spent gluing on his shoes, gluing his forehead back together (who knew how useful superglue could be), pre-riding an amped up horse (aka Kite Onna String), packing crew bags, and wrestling with things in the wind.

Because of the wind, it got to the stage where you couldn't do most basic tasks alone. My tack room door stopper suffered a failure from being nearly blown off its hinges, meaning that you needed two people to get the saddle out - one to hold the door, the other to wrestle the saddle. Similarly, to tack up, you needed one person to wrangle the blanket and saddle pad, while the other put the saddle on. Everything that normally lives outside the trailer was smooshed into the back of it, so it was tight quarters back there, with us clambering over piles of equipment, hay bags, feed containers, tack, chairs, etc.

All night it blew hard and in the morning despite trying to shelter them out of the wind, it didn't look like either horse had drunk very well, nor could we tell how much hay they'd eaten versus how much had just blown away. I gave Squee a mash which he devoured with such relish that I immediately gave him a second one - which sort of clued me in that he hadn't eaten much overnight. I was super-glad I got those two mashes in him as the morning developed. I also managed to give him a dose of electrolytes before the start.

The ride started at 6 a.m. and we were only 5 minutes late - pretty good going. We sailed along, making good time, passing horses as is Squee's habit, and enjoying the gorgeous sunrise. So far so good.

At 6 miles in, we hit our first issue of the day. Annette's stirrup decided to part company with the saddle, so we stopped at the first water trough for her to fix it (necessitating a complete saddle removal). Thankfully, although Squee ignored the water trough, he and Ranger amused themselves eating desert greenery while this repair was going on (possibly what contributed to him not crashing later, so definitely not a wasted stop). He was also not happy about all the horses that passed us here, but he managed to keep it together.

On we went, sailing along the ridge, admiring the rocks and at times clinging to the saddle to stop being blown off, leaning into the wind. It was crazy windy out there - but hilariously so. What the heck??

At 14 miles (at the "hot chocolate stop" - on the traditional night loop), another trough, another opportunity to drink ignored, but not totally out of the ordinary given the cool weather. I dosed Squee again, hoping to encourage him to drink at the trestle 6 miles further along.

He was bopping along quite happily - wanting to go-go-go, but I was able to keep him to a dull roar - better than past rides here. As we hit the shoulder of Laurel Mountain, it rained on us and although I was bundled up, I was reminded that I hadn't brought along my rain jacket. Thankfully it stopped pretty quickly, but it was a little nervous-making. I had to unzip three of my six layers to find a suitable safe inner pocket to put my rain-spotted glasses into.

At the trestle, he munched on alfalfa but ignored the water trough , so we took some time to let them refuel. I dosed him a third time in the hope that when we hit the vet check in another few miles, he'd start to drink.

Nope. At the vet check (~25 miles) he still had no interest in drinking. He pulsed down nicely, vetted through well, except for unsurprising low hydration scores - but worst of all, his gums were *bright* red, causing great concern. I flashed on the three doses of elytes I'd given him and vet Susan McCartney wondered if that was what had caused the irritation. Ugh. So much for diligent elyting. I flushed his mouth with plain water for a while using my elyte syringe and by the time our hold was over, his gums were back to normal. No more elytes for him for the rest of the ride...

Ranger had taken a little longer to pulse in, so we waited for them - I figure any rest time refueling is good time. Of course, Squee didn't eat his soggy mash, or drink anything (even as we left the check), he just munched on alfalfa.

The next section isn't the most scintillating - riding alongside hw-395, in a straight line for miles. This was similar to last year's route and I was mindful of the fact that in theory a person could trot-trot-trot non-stop for miles and miles. Since we don't train on that type of terrain, that clearly wasn't going to happen, so we put in a few walking breaks.

Squee felt good and the wind was at our back for the first few miles. Ultimately, of course, we had to turn and head straight into it. For some reason I thought there was a water trough at this point, so started doing some mental calculations as to where the next one was. Although Squee felt fine, I decided that if he didn't drink at one of the next two troughs (~32 miles and ~34 miles), I was going to have to pull him from the ride. Because we were looping around, from that point it was just a few miles back to the vet check. But after that, we'd be heading up into the hills and I didn't want to take a compromised horse up there.

And - big sigh of relief - he *finally* took a great big drink at the next trough. Imminent pull averted, although I still felt like I was going to have to baby him along due to the fact he was dehydrated.

So we climbed up into the hills - taking it really easy and not pushing at all. I'd worried that the weather would blow in when we were up there (and we'd had a short taste of it at that 34 mile-trough when we were pelted full in the face with small hail for a couple of minutes) and watched the lowering clouds to the south nervously. But instead we were down in a little canyon, out of the worst of the wind, and what wind there was was at our backs again.

Slow, careful climbing up to the top, but the reward of an amazing view as we crested the saddle at 4,200 ft / 1,280 m. And best of all, the weather never caught us.

Down the other side and headed back to the same vet check as in the morning. Half way down and Annette's stirrup parted ways again (she'd called a friend back in camp and asked them to bring her second saddle to the vet check for this eventuality). This time she trotted on one stirrup for 2-3 miles until the trestle #2 before stopping to fix it - something I couldn't have done, at least not without a lot of whining. Squee and Ranger munched on alfalfa while she made cunning use of her breast collar strap to McGyver a repair job.

Back around to vet check #2 at 50 miles. Squee again got relatively good scores, except for hydration, and at least his gums were the correct color. Ranger, OTOH, wasn't having a good day and it was here we parted company with him getting a ride back to camp in a trailer.

(At 50 miles, the one thing you do *not* do is think "gah, I'm tired, and we're only half-way through"). Thankfully, Squee gives no sh*ts, and cheerfully left the vet check without a care - eager to get down the trail and catch other victims. It's exhausting and exhilarating at the same time - amazing to see his energy, but exhausting because you have to constantly rate him to stop him blowing himself up.

Headed back to camp, we alternated cantering and gaiting, me trying to get a steady pace, him wanting to run. We hunted down some other riders who I assumed were on the 60 or 75 miler (there were more of them than 100 mile riders - and they did the same route as us), but it turned out to be Tami and Monica on the 100. I asked Squee to stay with them for a while in an effort to steady the pace, but he ultimately outwalked them once we got down onto the flats in town and he dragged me into camp (see video clip) at 60 miles with the wind blowing in our face.

This was our hour-hold, so we had plenty of time to regroup, refuel (many thanks to Annette for supplying me with ramen noodles), re-dress (thanks to Annette for the snow pants - although it meant I had nowhere to put my phone), and get Squee's saddle back on (stink-eye from him, since he thought we were done, as we had been the previous two years). We taped some glowsticks onto his breast collar and I booted up the "Rides with GPS" app that supplies audio-cues in the dark as to when and where to turn.

Of again on the first night loop - 15 miles - which would bring us to 75 miles back at camp. Squee was happy as a clam, leading out his posse of Tami, Monica, and new member Megan who was doing the 75. The wind had dropped and it was blissful to ride without having your sinuses whisked or your ears buffeted.

Within a few miles, Megan needed to jog on ahead - her horse has a useful can-go-for-100-miles slow trot that she wanted to make use of. She passed... and of course, Squee wanted to go with her. Since he was now drinking like an adult, had passed the previous vet check well, felt good, and Megan was going a nice easy pace, I didn't see any harm in letting him join her.

This was my mistake and one I made in the past when I rode Charlie at VC100 a few years ago. "Slow easy trot" - whilst it looks slow and easy for an arabian, is not the same as "picking your own gait and staying within reason" for a gaited thing. Squee kept up fine and had a jolly time - to the point that, when the wind came up again, he just went faster and faster until I realised we'd left Megan behind. I slowed him down again and we bopped on back to camp together. Along one stretch I was a little nervous about what seemed to be deep sand, but Squee seemed to gobble it all up.

Back in camp at 75 miles for the 4th vet check with a rabid beast who just wanted to eat and eat and eat... but unfortunately showed no sign of pulsing down. Unwilling to slosh him with water, all we could do was strip his tack, put on a fleece cooler and try and maintain the delicate balance between letting him eat rabidly, and taking him away from the food source to try and get his pulse down - causing it to spike up again because we'd taken the food away. Ugh.

At the last minute, the PnR person was able to get him at criteria - at which point he promptly peed... which would have helped if he'd done it earlier.

So he got through the vet, but not great. I worried that the lack of hydration was catching up with him, making his blood move along like sludge and that he'd go downhill from here. .

This hold was only supposed to be 45 minutes and we'd already spent a bunch of time persuading him to pulse down, so we went back to the trailer for more refueling, a soggy mash for him, more ramen for me, and ended up spending a whole hour - putting me back out on the trail for the final 25 miles at 11 p.m.

I'd never seen Tami or Monica come in to VC4 behind us, so decided that they'd slowed way down and must still be behind me, so it was a bit of a shock to arrive at the out-timer - albeit 20 minutes late - and be told that Tami had left 30 minutes earlier.

Oh. So I'm now turtle. Hey ho.

Off we went, Squee now a lot more subdued (but also heading away from the wind) for a long, dark windy loop. I'd hoped that we'd catch Tami, but Squee wasn't motivated enough. I tried to stay awake, but dozed off a couple of times within the first 10 miles - not good. But catnaps do you the world of good, so I was pretty perky by the time we hit the pointy end of the giant triangle that was the turning around point for this loop - 12.5 miles to go. The end of the loop had a short section of about a quarter mile where they routed us across-country to jog over to the return trail - and this quarter mile was lit up like a UFO landing strip with a glow-stick bouncing on a bush in the wind every 10 ft. Squee took a few minutes to munch on some greenery while I admired the glowsticks. Most amusing...

... until we headed back into the wind...

And windy it was. Ack. It was full, in-your-face wind. Along this stretch, there were three detours off the "headed-straight-back-to-camp" trail, each headed away from the wind. Looking at the map beforehand, I'd originally thought these would cause problems for any self-respecting horse with a sense of direction. Head *away* from camp? Nuh-uh. But instead, when we got to these detours, Squee took off with enthusiasm, doing his rolling downhill eye-popping speed gait away from the wind... and then we'd turn back into the wind and slow down again.

Astonishingly, I actually fell asleep again during one of these back-into-the-wind sections - possibly because I had my eyes squinted shut against being sand-blasted. I woke up with Squee walking straight through a large bush and bumbling around in the undergrowth (I think he was trying to head away from the wind). Consulted the Rides with GPS track and found that we'd veered off course. Apparently Rides with GPS was also asleep, as it never warned me like it's supposed to.

Back on course again and fighting to stay awake, keep Squee on trail, and go as fast as was sensible on a horse that has no desire to go into the wind, but goes like stink every time we head away from it.

The final detour seemed interminable - why weren't we there yet?? It seemed to go on and on, into the wind. And then we were on the final track leading back to camp. At which point Squee stumbled and went down on his knees, with me nearly going over his head. He clambered back up again, took a couple more steps and tripped again. I was on the verge of getting off to lead him in the final half mile but the wind was horrendous and he was fighting me to go - apparently this had woken him up and his mission was now to get us back to camp as fast as he possibly could. There would be no getting off.

The wind was howling at this point - the large trees planted along the front of the couple of residences near camp were whipping around in an alarming way, looking like they were going to be wrenched out by the roots; the horse was fighting to go; there was a metal shipping container banging away; and it all felt like a bit too much and I was suddenly near tears - probably mostly due to fatigue and worry about Squee - but I was overwhelmed by the whole thing.

In the last block, I did manage to get off him and try to lead him "quietly" into the finish line so he would "pulse down all nicely", but all that actually happened was he dragged me forcibly along, despite the death grip on the lead rope. The wind was whipping around, he was rabidly hungry again, and just wanted TO EAT DAMMIT. We did a final vet check with the wind crashing around us and - 100 miles done and dusted. My 7th 100 mile completion at this ride, and Squee's second 100 mile ride. It wasn't pretty, mistakes were made, but we got 'er done.

* * *

Huge thanks to Annette for crewing for me after she and Ranger were done for the day - and for staying up in the wee hours to help me with him.

* * *

The next day I missed most of the awards (I thought they started at 10, an hour later), but it turns out Squee and I won the turtle award (I wasn't sure, since we actually caught Tami and Robert Ribley at the finish line - turns out by the end they were just minutes ahead of us and if we'd made a tiny bit more effort, we would have caught them and could have ridden together) and got some swag (which isn't common when you aren't a top ten rider, so much appreciated for the donation - a rope halter, bucket, and some Doterra essential oil products from from Untamed Tack ( and Darlene LeVan... including their excellent Deep Blue Soothing Blend for poor tired muscles)

We had planned to stay over until Monday (I've come home on the Sunday after the 100 in years past, and it is seldom pretty). The pones were bundled up with plenty of food and we had no desire to sit in the windy camp listening to the buffeting wind, so instead we spent the day helping Brian go out and fetch the water troughs on trail.

It was so interesting to see the trail a) from a different view (i.e. to drive to the locations) and b) in daylight in some cases. In the dark, I'd gotten turned around and didn't realise where we'd repeated trail in reverse in a few places, where we'd ridden the trail in years past - and most of all, to have Brian explain why he routed the trail how he did.

Great care was taken to make sure we used the best possible options - particularly in the dark sections where some of the tracks we'd used in the past had suffered erosion. He'd even angled those detours deliberately so we'd be headed away from the wind along those oh-so-welcome stretches. Nice!

Big thanks to Brian Reeves and his volunteer crew for another excellent 20 Mule Team ride. I love this ride, have ridden it ten times, and come down to crew for friends a bunch of other years. Long may it continue!

* * *

We came home on Monday, again without any flat tires (this had become a thing on past trips to Ridgecrest, always necessitating a trip to the tire shop) - but I did lose the running lights on the trailer as we were coming through Auburn in the dark to drop Annette and Ranger off.

As of the following weekend, I think I've found the short, so right now the lights are working. Fingers crossed they stay that way.

Squee's glue on shoes have been removed while he takes a few weeks off, and I'm mulling over my mistakes with a resolve to "try to do better". Uh huh.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

2024 Twenty Mule Team - Vera V-Abdallah

By Vera V-Abdallah
March 5 2024

Last weekend, we participated in the 20-Mule-Team Ride, which was only held for one day of riding. Thus, we had to do some juggling with getting the adoptable rescue horses out there riding the 35-mile limited distance (LD) ride, while Erna on Love Story competed in the 60-mile ride. I rode the LD ride with one of my newer mentor horses, Sir Trot a Lot, who I thought would do great to accompany the two adoptable horses, Alada Baske Aire and Two Step Betty. I was nervous about Erna riding the 60 miles without me, but my friend Cynthia Buendia rode my horse Sharif to be there as Erna’s support. Erna is now a "young rider" at 17 years of age and she is eligible to ride alone, but as a mom, I was so happy for Cynthia to ride with Erna.

I figured that Sir Trot a Lot could take over Sharif's guardian role on the 35-mile LD ride, since Sir Trot a Lot is a very calm and mostly confident horse. Erna and the 60 mile riders all started out at 6 a.m. whereas I started out at 7 a.m. This was great because I was able to see Erna and Cynthia off to the start of the ride and still had enough time to get myself ready to start our LD ride.

As most of you probably know, the weather conditions were less than desirable with a horrible windstorm that lasted all weekend, with sustained 30 to 40 mile winds and gusts that were up to 100 miles per hour! In addition, rain, possible snow or sleet was forecast. We dressed appropriately and set out to ride.

Alada Baske Air was ridden by Leah Palestrant who is an experienced endurance rider who flew in, all the way from Ohio, to ride with us! I was very happy about this because it was Alada Baske Air's first endurance ride. Two Step Betty was ridden by Katja Pizka who is also a board member of our rescue. It was Katja's first endurance ride, though she is an experienced rider and is very physically fit.

It seems like at every ride there is something new or crazy that happens! This time, it was crazy weather with the wind storm, as we had to ride alongside some residential properties with stuff flying and flapping all over the place. At the start of a ride, horses are usually anxious and to add to it the flapping and flying debris, it was nerve wracking for me. We made it passed the properties and the horses did very well. As I was breathing a sigh of relief, we saw a truck with a photographer ahead, but the horses were hesitant to approach since they could not quite make out that it was a human ahead and not a horse eating monster. We kept calling out to the photographer to call out back to us, so the horses could hear a human voice, but the blasting wind was so loud that he could not hear us. We finally got to where he was crouching down in the dirt road, taking photos of us. As the photographer disappeared into his truck and we went to ride on, we saw a riderless saddled-up mule galloping toward us.

That was my "oh shit" moment because not only was I concerned that my horse would take off running with the mule, but I was also worried for Leah and Katja. How would Alada Baske Aire or Two Step Betty react? I was able to stop my horse from running, though he did bolt a few steps and was able to grab the runaway mules reins, all the while yelling for the photographer to get out of his truck and to hold onto the mule, which eventually he did. Fortunately, neither one of the other two horses ran off, they listened to their riders and stood still. That was a huge relief because in my mind's eye, I had imagined all of our horses galloping alongside the runaway mule back to camp.

We all took a deep breath and continued on. In my mind, I kept questioning my sanity for continuing onward with the ride with the gale force winds howling around us and having survived the runaway mule situation. But onward and forward we forged our way through the microderm abrasion sand storm. At least, I was getting a free facial treatment! Once we got to the turn off, where we were heading north on an incline sandy road, we let the horses trot forward. We had to make up time because we had only ridden at a walk to this point and the mule episode had cost us time for sure. Also, this would run off some energy of our horses because they were on edge with all this wind. We trotted for several miles and things settled down, but the wind didn't follow that lead. It kept howling alongside us and the strong wind gusts almost blew us off our horses!

I kept trying to have Sirt Trot a Lot lead our group, but he absolutely refused to lead. The only time he was willing to ride up front was when another rider would pass us and he would follow the horse for a mile or two, but then Sir Trot a Lot would come to a complete stop and would not even take one more step until Alada Baske Aire would take over the lead.

I asked Sir Trot a Lot if he was not embarrassed to have a "new horse" be the leader, but he did not seem to care about being a follower. Katja and Two Step Betty rode behind us and there were a few times when they would lead, but Betty also seemed to prefer staying behind the two geldings for this ride.

We arrived at a water stop about seven miles into the ride and as the horses were drinking, their heads suddenly shot upwards. We could not see much because we had to squint our eyes to protect them from the flying sand. The horses had noticed a column of about 15 cross country motorcycles blasting by us, way before we had become aware of the bikes. That was a lot of motorcycles all at once! Fortunately, yet again, the horses stayed calm. But it is in moments like these that your heart stands still momentarily especially with new horses.

We continued riding at a good pace until about mile 14 into the ride. It started to rain and hail. The hail was not fun at all because it was thumping pretty hard on us and the horses. At that point, the horses really did not want to continue, they wanted a break! But we were able to motivate them again once the hailstorm had stopped. Alada Baske Aire continued leading the group.

We had to cross Highway 395, just as it was starting to hail again. Sir Trot a Lot does not like big semi-trucks, they intimidate him and just as we were standing by the side of the highway, waiting to cross, several semi-trucks were starting to pass by. He really looked for guidance from me, as his rider, but he also looked at the other two horses' demeanor. They stayed calm, so he stayed calm.

We finally were able to cross the highway and rode on. But, at around mile 16 into the ride, the horses really needed a break. Normally, when riding an LD ride that is 25 to 35 miles long, there is a vet check around 15 miles into the ride, where horses are given a 30-minute break. Our horses started walking as slow as molasses and there was no way to motivate them to trot. I tried to get Sir Trot a Lot to lead, and he absolutely refused. Alada Baske Aire would not trot ahead and Two Step Betty did not want to lead in a trot either.

We were really concerned about making time. You need to average a minimum of 4.5 miles per hour in order to finish a ride within the allotted time. According to the GPS app on my phone, we were ok on time, but if we could not motivate the horses, we’d be in trouble. I called my friend Susannah Jones who was waiting at the vet check at ride mile 24 and told her of our trouble and my concern that were going to go over time. I told her that we were about seven miles from the vet check and at this rate, we’d arrive at the vet check tomorrow. She laughed and the horses must have heard the laughing because they decided it was ok to trot again.

Alada Baske Aire got a second wind and he happily trotted in the lead again. This motivated Sir Trot a Lot to trot along, just as I had contemplated changing his name to Sir Stop a Lot. Two Step Betty was good to go again too. We continued a pattern of trotting alternating with walking until we arrived at a water stop at ride mile 20. This stop not only had water, but it also had some alfalfa hay for the horses. This was great because all three of the horses drank and ate. This stop was manned by Paula Herr and her husband who adopted a horse from our rescue and it was really refreshing for me to chat with them.

We had four more miles to go to get to the vet check. The horses were refreshed and more eager to move forward, but poor Katja started experiencing back spasms and pain. I know that those four miles were really hard on her, but she sucked it up and trotted along.

About ¼ mile from the vet check, we got off our horses and walked them in so that they would pulse down faster to the required pulse of 60 or below. Two Step Betty pulsed in at 44 beats per minute and Alada Baske Aire’s pulse was at 56 as we walked into the vet check. Sir Trot a Lot’s pulse was at 64 and we had to wait a few minutes for it to reach 60. We had a 30-minute break until we could ride out again at 12:26 p.m. According to my GPS, we had ridden 24.5 miles, had been in the saddle for a little under five hours and had averaged 4.9 miles per hour. The horses passed the trot out and the vet check in flying colors. I was so proud of them!

In addition to Susannah, Giovanni and his wife, whom I have known for many years were volunteers at the vet check. All three helped us with our horses, so they would drink and eat. In addition to covering our horses with wool blankets, they held onto them so we could run to the porta-potty and we could grab some snacks and some Advil for Katja. We gave each other a pep talk in regard to the remaining 10.5 miles.

Off we went to ride the remaining miles and again, we not only had to cross Highway 395 again, but we also had to ride alongside the highway for about one mile with traffic blasting by us. We had to pass a large property with lots of junk trailers and things that were fluttering around, as the wind was still going strong. But the horses did well and acted like old professionals.

When we had seven miles left to ride, I gave the pep talk that during our conditioning rides, we have ridden seven miles in less than one hour. We psyched ourselves up that we were almost at the finish line. The last few miles were not that tough. Maybe it was because we had gotten used to the crazy strong wind and stuff flapping and flying around. The last four miles, we had to ride through a neighborhood and there were properties with construction and things flapping around. We chose to walk through the neighborhood instead of trotting because by our calculation, even if we walked the rest of the way, we would be ok on time. We had to ride alongside of a street that wasn’t too busy and we trotted where we could and walked where we felt it was safer to walk.

We made it into ride camp, which was our finish line after 35.4 miles at 3 p.m. which was 30 minutes before the cut off time. Two Step Betty immediately pulsed in at 52 beats per minute, Alada Baske Aire pulsed in at 56 beats per minute and both horses finished with a good vet report card.

But Sir Trot a Lot stayed at 64 beats per minute. He would not drop down to the required 60 beats per minute. He had been drinking well during the entire ride, he had even stopped to pee three times during the ride. He had been eating every chance he had. We noticed that his back was sore. I felt so terrible for him. We waited at the vet check for 30 minutes, but when he did not pulse down to 60 beats per minute. Even though he and I had finished the 35-mile ride, we did not get a completion.

The veterinarian checked him over and told me to come back within the hour to give Sir Trot a Lot another check up. Of course, as soon as he got to the trailer and his friends, his heart rate dropped to 54 beats per minute. But at this point it was too late to get the completion. I told myself, “it is what it is”, I was just happy that Sir Trot a Lot was gulping down his beat pulp mush, happily chewing on his alfalfa hay and drinking a lot of water. When we took him back to the veterinarian, Sir Trot a Lot checked out fine.

I was extremely proud of Alada Baske Aire and Two Step Betty. I was grateful to Leah for leading the way for most of the ride with Alada Baske Aire who is a better leader than the more experienced Sir Trot a Lot. Leah is an absolutely amazing, experienced endurance rider and it shined through during the entire ride. Also, I was very grateful to Katja for completing the last 10 miles of the ride even though she was experiencing a lot of back pain.

Endurance riding is definitely not for the faint of heart, you really do have to put your “big girl panties” on and you have to “suck it up buttercup” for sure!

Thursday, March 07, 2024

2024 Twenty Mule Team - Chelsea Arnold

March 5 2024
By Chelsea Arnold

I almost gave up and moved down to the 75 mile ride…At 11:30pm the night before the 20 Mule Team 100 mile ride, the winds were 50 mph and howling, rocking the Lq trailer back and forth and I thought about the ride ahead in the blowing wind. What am I thinking, went through my head.. what do we need to prove? I talked to Shayna and she said, “it just depends on how much not fun you want to have?” LOL!! I knew we were tough enough to get it done and I was saddling up the best and toughest horse I know. But did I need to? I convinced myself that night that 100 miles in this weather was stupid and I could just level down and not be out all night.

But then I woke up at 4am and like the 100 mile rider I am… I was like… oh what the hell. I had made myself a promise never to pass up a chance to ride a 100 miles on a good horse, so weather be damned…you only live once so we are putting on our wind and rain gear and heading out into the storm. I was riding the one and only Gus, so we saddled up and warmed up in the blowing wind to ride out with Sabine and her boy Ammour. The horses were game and ready. The trail opened and off we went.

Laughter and smiles all around as we tackled the wind and crazy conditions. The first loop went pretty quick and the desert was green and lush and beautiful. It’s so raw out in the desert, and the wind made you feel just how wild and harsh it truly is.

The vet check was 30 minutes and then we were out on loop 2. This loop was nuts, lol… It was long at 26 miles and the rain came, soaking us, then sideways hail and crazy winds gusts that made you grab your saddle. All we could do was laugh and hang on. You couldn’t talk over the roar of the wind. The horses dug deep and put their heads into the wind. At one point, Gus was trying to trot at an angle to the wind to protect his face. But at that point you realize that you can do anything on a good horse and with good company.

We made it to the next vet check with another 30 min hold. We had no crew, so some lovely ladies held our horses so we could make mash, shovel down some food and refill our packs. 50 miles to go…

Only too soon, we headed the 10 miles back to ride camp for a lovely 1 hour hold. The horses were strong and knew they were headed home, so they made short work of the loop and before we knew it we were back in camp. They vetted through and Shayna and Elsie (who had ridden the 35 earlier), helped me get Gus situated. I changed clothes, ate some soup and was ready to go the next 15 miles. Let’s do this…

Sabine and I met up again and headed out in some lighter winds. Actually, this was the best loop of the day as the winds had slowed down briefly and made for a glorious 15 miles. I was naively thinking that if the rest of the ride was like this, it will be a piece of cake.

At the 75 mile vet check, Sabine and Ammour finished their ride in 3rd place just as it was getting dark. Woohoo! So proud of them! Gus and I vetted through for our next loop and headed to the trailer to rest and eat. I managed to eat some turkey sandwich and get myself mentally prepared for a long 25 mile loop into the dark. I was wondering how Gus would be heading out by himself without a buddy, but as soon as we put his glow sticks on his breastcollar, he knew… He is an old pro at 100 milers. It’s been over a year since his last one, but he didn’t forget…

Too soon and I jumped back on to head into the abyss alone with just the Gus man for company. 25 miles… we can do this. Of course the winds came back with a vengeance. They were now ramping up to 50 mph in the gusts and a good 30-40 mph steady wind. Good lord. What was I thinking…

Gus, bless his big ole heart, walked out of camp in his power walk and as soon as we hit the trail started trotting. He wanted this done as much as I did. But the winds didn’t make it easy, as hard as we were pushing, the winds kept pushing back. Much of the trail was spent with a full sideways wind or a horrific headwind that practically pushed us back.

We fought on.. As we were almost at the 10 mile mark, still headed away from camp, Gus hit a lull… as he walked along I tried to encourage him but he knew we were still not headed home and this just sucked. So we trotted glow stick to glow stick and I let him walk when he reached the glow stick. Pretty soon we got into a rhythm. He ate the lovely green filaree that was growing in the desert and that perked him up. As soon as we made the turn for home, Gus put on the gas…. Right into the big headwind. Unreal. I was trying to encourage him, but he couldn’t hear me over the wind but I yelled anyway. “Good boy, you got this, come on tough guy, fight it!”

We fought on and with each loop we had to take off the main road, I could feel Gus’s resolve slip but then he would come roaring back every turn for home. Come on boy…. Hang in there. Giving electrolytes was ridiculous or trying to eat was impossible as everything was just flying out of your hands. Finally, we were making the last climb to the water tank and I knew we were just miles from home. I reached down and gave that big old horse a hug. We’ve got this big guy… and thank you from the bottom of my heart for loving this crazy endurance life as much as I do.

We crossed the finish line and Gus wanted to head to camp so he was circling around me and the finish line crew was laughing that he wasn’t even tired at all, lol. Crazy horse…

We vetted through with mostly A’s and got our completion. 5th place! What?!?!? So stinking proud of us and what we just overcame. And so full of love for this big ole cow horse from Colorado. 6/6 100 mile completions and almost to his 2000 mile mark with 0 pulls.

Buz wasn’t able to come to the ride, but he kept texting me asking how his horse was doing… lol… yeah honey… I’m fine too, hahaha…

When we got home on Sunday, Gus’s nighttime stall was bedded up with bags of shavings and when I checked on him later that night, he was sound asleep in his fluffy bed his dad made him… I know its killing Buz not to ride the Gus man but hopefully by summer, they will be back killing it on the trail. (But after I steal Gus for Tevis, lol....)

Monday, February 26, 2024

Saudi Arabia’s Fursan Cup Part II - Alex Shampoe

February 23 2024

By Alex Shampoe

The Fursan Cup race 2024 120k started at 7AM.

I got to the venue about 6:15. There were a lot of people buzzing around. Driving to the venue it seemed like the whole city of Al Ula was asleep. Then we hit the venue where everyone was busy and excited. The energy was very high. In the moment I was grateful that I have done bigger races like this, so it wasn’t too overwhelming.

All I could think about was the race start. The day before Power (my horse) was doing everything he could to stay as far away from other horses as possible. He had his bubble and didn’t want others in it. With 200 other horses starting, his bubble wasn’t going to work. I had confidence that he had done multiple starts like this so I was focused on staying with my team and creating the biggest bubble I could for Power.

The horses were all fed and walked but the time I got to the venue. We tacked up our horses and took them out of the barn. We hand walked them around the Saudi quarantine area. Most of the other horses had left and already gone out to the start line. Cheryl, Vicki (our new German teammate) and I decided we should get on our horses in the stable area while our horses were calm and away from the other 200 horses. We got on and everyone was calm and happy. As we tried to leave the stable, we were told we had to get off and walk out of the barn area and then get on the horses again out where everyone else was. This was what we were hoping to avoid but we had to follow the rules. The rules were very strict for safety reasons, so we quickly agreed and got off the horses. We walked the horses out and found a gap to stop and get back on between waves of horses. Now we had a short walk on a 3-horse wide path to the start line. There were multiple different herds of horses circling and circling in and out and around each other. We stayed in the furthest circle we could away from the start line. We were trying to find our Saudi rider that we were supposed to stay with during the race. He was riding for the same stable that we were. Then we heard the countdown to the start and suddenly, the sound of over 100 horses galloping away.

Just then our Saudi guy called to us, and we followed him to the start line where most of the horses have already left. Thank goodness all our horses were calm. They didn’t like when other horses would be acting up around them, but they all stayed happy next to each other. Power (my horse) was very focused on getting to the start line and going through the start. He did much better than I thought he would with all the horses around him. He knew what he was doing, and I just needed to trust him. The start went down a huge chute 40 yards wide with plenty of room for all the horses. When we left there was not much passing going on. Everybody in the back was pretty set in their pace right away. There was a little bit of juggling around as a few stragglers tried to find a group, but it was a very pleasant start.

The first loop was supposed to be the easiest loop. It was mostly on hard packed roads. What made the loop difficult was the rock and sand. There was rock on the hard packed part and then there was sand on the side. There were rolling hills throughout this loop. Was definitely not a flat and fast course. Right away we found out the different paces of our four horses. We had two younger horses just imported from France and then two older horses who had done a lot of sand work. One of the horses wanted to do more of a slow canter. Two of the horses wanted to go and go and go and go faster and faster and faster. After the first 5 km Power (my horse) was perfect. The first 5 km we were finding our groove. That was the fastest I’ve ever connected with a horse that I just met for a race. The day before I was so concerned that it was going to be a bad start. I had expected that Power and I were going to be fighting each other for the first half of the day but we weren’t. He listened to my seat, so easily. He cantered to the rhythm of my seat and my hips. When my seat told him to trot, he trotted to my rhythm. When my body told him to walk, he walked. No fighting. He followed all transitions from my body. I could not believe it. 

I want to give some credit to my saddle. I love my Reactor Panel. I believe a big part of the change in Power from pre-ride to race day was being able to change my saddle to fit him. He went from not being happy in a general fit to becoming completely comfortable in a saddle custom fit to him. I tend to be a very controlling rider. I always have contact with my horse’s mouth, not necessarily on the bit but ready to help them whenever I can throughout the day. It doesn’t matter what horse. I had light contact with Power’s mouth and that is how we went all day. We never had a fight. He was so balanced, and so in tune with my seat for most of the race. I felt like I could ride him bareback without a bridle. He was so awesome. Obviously I can’t say enough about Power.

Coming into the first vet check was a little interesting. For the two younger horses we slowed down to make sure they would pulse well in this new environment. We got off and hand walked the last 20 or 30 yards in for them. Vicki had to pull off and weigh right away. Her horse still had a lot of energy so he couldn’t stand there and wait while she weighed so thankfully her crew guy ran to take her horse and start cooling him. In FEI we all have pinnies with our numbers. You can’t touch a horse unless you have his piney on. 

When I crossed over the in-timer line, I saw my crew guy, so I handed him Power (my horse), and he took off running!! I took off with him, saying “slow down, slow down!” and he turned back, still running, looked at me and said, “No Worries, No Worries”. He ran all the way to the closest water trough to the vet check. I took my saddle off as fast as I could thinking it’s going to take him longer to pulse down now because of the running. Then a guy with a heart monitor checked Power and I couldn’t believe what it said. 42 pulse! With no water for cooling, we walked right into the vet check and Power pulsed below the limit and trotted right away. The check itself was busy. There were lots of horses circling waiting for their chance to vet through. All our horses passed, and we were through to the next loop.

The crew area was in a huge open space completely covered. Each team had their own small space where they could crew their horses. Thankfully, the front runners had already gone out on the second loop and so the crew areas were not jampacked. When we came out of the vet check Power walked right up to his buffet table and stepped right into his huge ice water buckets. It was so cool to watch. He stood there the whole time like a perfect gentleman. You could tell he knew what he was supposed to do in the vet check.

The second loop was difficult. During this loop it got hot. We start off on the rolling, hard packed roads with the rock pebbles and side sand. Then we hit the rolling hills of deep sand. We soon hit a great crew point with lots of water to cool the horses. Then up up up in the deep sand to the top of a dune. (We got off the horses and started walking on foot. All of our four horses quickly showed us that they were much faster in the sand than we were, so we got back on right away). It felt like we were walking forever. It was so cool when we got to the top and looked out behind us. There was 30+ horses all lined up like a wagon train walking up the long dune. 

This loop was 32 km long but at least 10 km of it was this deep sand. Then at the top there was short trot/ cantered section around the top before starting back down. Then back to deep sand walking all the way to the bottom. I learned very quickly on this loop how great Power is in the sand. Having a balanced and conditioned sand horse who’s really listening to exactly what you want, was very helpful and made this loop non-stress for me. Thank you Power. From there it was hard packed road all the way back to the venue. And again, my amazing crew person took my horse and started sprinting through the check! This time I didn’t have a mini heart attack and I let them go, and of course Power pulsed in again at like 44 so…! All our horses made it through looking great!

One thing I really loved about this race was all the volunteers out there, giving us water to cool horses. They had two or three crew areas where your crew could come out on every loop. They also had at least three volunteer crew areas each loop with a lot of volunteers to give us water to cool. It helped that Vicki and I were young pretty girls who didn’t speak Arabic. The volunteer guys gave us a lot of water for our horses .

The third loop was like the first. It had a couple more sections of the deep sand though. These sections were spread out in little sections. This loop had more hills right away than the first one. The hills and few short periods of deep sand made this loop difficult. Oh yeah! And the heat. Coming from Florida the dry heat was quite a change and the amount of sand that you breathe in even when it’s not windy is shocking. Or more literally choking. My buff that I almost didn’t bring that day was a life saver. As I came off this loop, I still had my crew person to run Power through the cooling area. But the guy with the heart monitor wasn’t there and so my crew person started cooling. We maybe put 2 scoops of water on him while I’m waiting for the monitor and I then like 30 seconds after waiting I told my guy, “let’s just go in and see what happens.” I felt very impatient and spoiled but I love that I could trust Power like that, and he pulsed in at 44 again. 

This loop we were watching our phones too. The other two riders for our stable (the owner Faisal and the other German rider Anna) were riding more towards the front. On our walking breaks we were checking the app to try and get an update on how they were doing. We learned Anna had finished in 9th place!! Unfortunately, Faisal got pulled at the finish. It was funny riding our own ride and being able to get updates about the front runners, especially knowing a couple and cheering for them motivated us even more so.

Our two young horses in the group were starting to feel the sand and the heat. The last loop (loop four) we just wanted to get everyone through it and finish. We had to keep a consistent pace as we needed to fish the race by 7:10pm. By the end of the 3rd loop we had been averaging 12.8km/hr. We needed to finish with an average of at least 12km/hr. We had about 2 hours and 35min to finish. The loop was 25k. We were not crazy worried, but everyone was keeping an eye on their watch. This loop had a lot of deep sand. It did not have quite as much constant incline as the second loop, but a lot of rolling, deep sand. We met up with Yvette from Canada leaving and we started the loop off with a few kilometers on a hard packed road with a good incline. Then we hit a long section of deep sand followed by a little section of hard packed road where we got to see our inspirational crew. Next, we hit an even longer section of deep sand, and another inspirational crew point. On our last section of sand, we got to watch the sun coming down and our watch’s tick away. Finally, we could see the camp only 5km away and rode the hard packed track back to the finish line. In the end we finished with 22min to spare.

All our horses vetted through and received completions. Power felt like he could have gone out and completed another 40km. His vet card said he could as well. I can’t believe how lucky I was to be able to ride Power. With all the difficulties and changes with the horses over the 6 weeks before I cannot be more grateful of how it ended up. He tested me the day before the race, but I think he was just making sure I was tough enough for the next day. He knew if I would put up with his stuff the day before then he could give me his all on race day. No matter what I asked of him he did. We let the group go once, even losing sight of them, so we could watch the footing in the sand, no fuss. Canter/gallop out and catch the group, no problem. Waiting at the water points with 15 other horses running through and bumping us around, no fuss. Really having a balanced and strong canter through some unexpected deep sand, no problem. I’m so thankful for all the dressage lessons I have taken throughout the years. Without those lessons I could not have ridden Power as well. He really wanted to listen to the movement of my body and seat. It’s crazy when a horse halfway around the world can connect with you like that. He was worth 10x the leaping in the air, bucking and throwing himself all over the place he did on the pre- ride the day before the race. I hope that one day I can go back and ride him again. I am even looking forward to his pre-ride shenanigans. 

Thank you to my horse’s owners, my crew, my team, the volunteers, the veterinarians, the officials, and the organizing committee. Thank you to so many people from Saudi, Jordan, UAE, France, Italy, Canada, Germany, and the USA for coming together to make this happen. How lucky I am to experience these incredible adventures on the global equestrian stage.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Saudi Arabia’s Fursan Cup Part I - Alex Shampoe

February 20 2024
By Alex Shampoe

I have been waiting to post because I wanted to find more pictures. I realized that these few pictures describe my recent trip to Saudi Arabia for the Fursan Cup (75 miles) perfectly.

The idea started months ago when I made a list of Goal races I wanted to do outside the US in 2024. The Fursan Cup felt so unlikely and yet it was at the top of my list. The race is by invite only (more on that later). I didn’t know how I could get invited, what horse I would ride, who would I stay with, how would I get there… I had so many obstacles it seemed impossible.

In December Anastasia Gia Larue connected me with an Italian stable that I could ride for. I applied for entry to the race on the Italian horse and got Accepted! (2 obstacles down). Then I was informed that the organizing committee would not subsidize transportation expenses. I had to reassess my strategy given the financial risk associated with transporting a horse from Italy, especially in the absence of a guaranteed finish.

Next, I contacted one of my/Val’s friend from Jordan Rashid Kassim . I raced with him on Val’s horses almost a year ago at the Florida McCulleys ride. He asked his friends from Jordan and found me an amazing horse with a spotless record. I entered the race on the Jordan horse!! I got word back that the organizing committee wouldn’t accept any more Jordan horses into the race. (They only accept a certain number of horses from each country). Although I could not enter on a Jordan horse, I later stayed with the Jordan people, Samir Ahmad, Ali Abu Rabie, and Husain Al Jabari the first night while in Saudi. They could not have been more gracious hosts. I felt like part of their group right away and can’t wait to go ride in Jordan!

My search continued. With the help of Cheryl Van Duesen and Nasser AbuQamar I looked through 7+ Saudi horses searching for the horse most likely to complete. Cheryl then connected me with her horse’s owner, and he offered me a great horse Gaston! (Gaston was bred and raised by Morgane Payen’s family. Val and I stayed with Morgane’s family when we took Gilly with Meghan Wert to France in 2023 for the Young Rider Championships. The Endurance World really is small.) I felt like this was a sign and that everything finally was coming together.

I flew to Dubai on Monday February 5 to spend some time with Madiya Al-maktoum and her amazing horses. Wednesday in Dubai I rode 3 times on 2 different horses and then Thursday before my flight to Saudi, I rode a 40k training ride. These rides refreshed my water bottle handling skills while canter/galloping on hot horses in the sand. The race was scheduled for Saturday February 10. On Wednesday February 7, Gaston (my Saudi horse) got kicked. Gaston was out. I was in the Dubai, getting ready to fly to Saudi, with no horse to ride in the race in Saudi.

Getting invited to this race is very completed. Changing horses 36 hours before the start is even more complicated. At that point, you can only change to another horse that is entered into the race. Yes, that means you need to take someone else’s horse, if you want to change horses that late in the game. A serendipitous turn of events transpired when Shannon Thorndyke, a fellow competitor from Canada, graciously facilitated the reassignment of her entry, Power Colours, for my use in the competition. After hours, Shannon and the Canadian Equestrian Foundation (not sure if that is the right name) acted quickly to help me. They removed Shannon’s entry through FEI so “Shannon’s horse” could be freed up for me. USEF was contacted, again after hours to enter me on “Shannon’s horse”. There were frantic phone calls and texts all night long. There were time zone issues. Some miscommunications occurred. Most importantly, Cheryl was at the office of the organizing committee on the venue. She worked with them every step of the way to ensure the changes were going to happen. The organizing committee, committed to Cheryl, yes….. Alex will ride on Saturday. The horse owner was patiently standing outside of the venue for a part of the time, “Shannon’s” horse in hand, waiting for permission to bring the horse onto the venue. Only officially registered horses were allowed on the venue, of course. Where was I you might ask? I was stuck in the airport, working through Visa issues.

Yet….. I was finally entered on Power Colours less than an hour before the cut off on Thursday night.

I was very delayed Thursday night landing in Al Ula, Saudi, because of unforeseen Visa requirements. Big lessons learned is to make sure I fully understand Visa requirements for all my trips going forward. You live and you learn. Now I know for next time! Thankfully a friend of my Jordan friend was patiently waiting for me outside the airport. It was too late to go to the venue so we went straight to where I was staying for the night. That night I stayed with part of the Jordan team who became my cheerleaders for the rest of the weekend. They became my race family and helped me in every way they could. They made the weekend so much fun and less stressful, navigating me through the different cultures and the venue.

Friday morning, the day before race day, I went to the venue for the first time and was in shock. It was huge!! There were at least 4 different stable sections arranged by country to keep all the horses quarantined and safe. They had a huge cafeteria room with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They had so much food my eyes were always bigger than my stomach. I ate soooooo much food. The cooling, vetting, and crewing areas were arranged perfectly. Everything flowed very smoothly. The pre-ride briefing was in a beautiful (I want to say Mexican style but I guess it would be Saudi style) conference room. There were projectors on both sides of the room so everyone could hear and see the information given.

I meet up with Cheryl and we went and saw our horses. Power Colours, my new horse, was one of the most interesting parts of the whole trip. He kept me very entertained. We went for a walk around the Saudi stable and he was nice and relaxed until he saw another horse acting up just over the fence. Power shot straight up into the air and kicked out. Just imagine the Airs Above the Ground tricks. That’s what he did. As soon and I told him to stop he did. We walked calmly around for 10 more minutes. Again, something would startle him and up in the air he went. He never pulled on the line. I never thought he would hurt me. He just would go straight up, kick out a little, then come back down and walk on with me. Guess he just needs to get it out. I was thinking “Man I hope he doesn’t do that under saddle”…. He did.

Cheryl, two great German ladies, and I went out for a pre-ride. All the horses were wild. We were all riding for the same owner. (One of these German ladies would ride with us the next day slow and steady. The other went on to win 9th place!) Power’s regular rider told me that Power would play with me but just don’t let him intimidate me and he will settle. Well, easier said than done. One of the horses had some tack malfunctions and there was a lot of horses all around us. Power tested and tested but by the end of the 5k loop we had figured each other out. At least as much as we were going to. I couldn’t help but think that tomorrow is going to be an interesting day.

While pre-riding I decided I wanted to change my saddle. I brought my reactor panel from home because I was worried about making weight with one of the light saddles they usually use in Saudi. I would much rather use a heavier saddle than a weighted pad. My saddle was fit to my horse at home and Power had a much different back. Thankfully, I had Wendy MacCoubrey on speed dial at probably 5am her time in Canada to FaceTime with me and help me change the saddle. When we first put my saddle on Power, Power was tense and not happy. As we started changing and moving it around his whole body changed. He was licking and chewing, yawning, he was much happier. One of his shoulders was different than the other. A regular saddle would have been very hard to fit on him perfectly. Without my Reactor Panel I don’t believe Power and I would have done so well. He had competed multiple races before with a different saddle, but I think having my saddle just made it that much better for the both of us. I can’t thank Wendy enough for her expert guidance. I couldn’t have done it without her.

Later that day (Friday) we vetted in. Power was a total professional. I guess he decided it was showtime. For dinner that night I went with my Jordan friends Fawzi Kassim and Zein Kassim to a restaurant in Al Ula and walked around town looking though all the shops. We also had Baskin Robins! They are everywhere!

I felt full cultural immersion. I was in Saudi Arabia, with my new friends from Jordan, planning to ride the next day with a new friend from Germany.

I will write about the race in my next post with videos and more pictures.

Sunday after the race I went to watch the 160k race start. I was also looking for a ride to the airport. The owner I rode for the day before (Faisal) was racing the 160k. His spent his entire vet hold trying to find someone that could take me to the airport. By the time he left he had one of his two crew people leave with me so I could get to the airport on time. The whole drive the crew guy (I’m so disappointed I can’t remember is name) and I spent laughing. He did not speak great English, but he was teaching me Arabic while he drove very quickly to the airport. Back to Dubai for one night and then home.

As I reflect upon this experience, I want to thank all the people and countries that helped me. We had Italy, Jordan, UAE, Saudi, Germany, Canada, France, and of course all my loving support back in the US all play a part in my adventure. Especially Valerie Kanavy and her husband Larry who listen, advice and support all of my crazy dreams and ideas.

Without all these people I could not have done this. This is what I love most about traveling. You meet so many different people and experience so many different cultures. My travel bug is even worse now. I can’t wait for future adventures on the global equestrian stage. I can’t wait to meet more people who will become lifelong friends.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Sanoma’s endurance adventures in New Zealand - Full Story

February 5 2024
Sanoma Blakeley

New Zealand is somewhere I've always wanted to go. On the big world map hanging above my bed, NZ has a blue pin to indicate my desire to visit. However, this winter it wasn’t just a bucket list place I wished to someday visit, it was more of a “how can I get myself there?”. My really good friend was going to be in NZ for 3 months and she invited me to visit her. I’m always up for an adventure and good time with Addi, so naturally New Zealand was hot on my radar. In November I was deeply involved in my second favorite pastimes (looking for cheap flights) when I came across a REALLY good deal for a flight to New Zealand. I didn’t need to give it a second thought before throwing them in my cart.

Of course, before buying my flight, I did a quick internet search to see if there were any endurance rides in NZ that I could possibly schedule my trip around. My preliminary search showed several endurance rides with 2 different sanctioning organizations and one ride from each organization that would work with the flight deal.

I bought my economy, non-refundable or changeable flight and decided to reach out to these ride organizations and see what kind of adventures we could cook up:). I was quickly offered a horse for both of the rides that were scheduled during the duration of my trip.

I tried to talk Barrak into joining me on this trip and a preliminary google search revealed a incentive for him to come. There was going to be a triathlon there. That and the fact that he only sees the sun 4 hours a day in the winter living in Alaska and New Zealand, being in the southern hemisphere, is in the middle of their summer. Oh, and surfing... that was also on my list of reasons he should come with me. That and just because I love his company when traveling.

Everything came together and I readily accepted Robyn's offered to ride her horse, Makahiwi Titan in the 120km (75mile) Waimeha Mandate Cup on the 4th of February. Robyn was so incredibly hospitable and generous that I could hardly wait for my trip...

Read the rest here:

Friday, December 22, 2023

Barefoot in New Mexico 2023 - Valerie Jaques

FurtherAdventuresTeam91 Blog - Full Story

December 21 2023
Valerie Jaques

For Thanksgiving weekend, we decided to try to sneak in one last ride before the end of the AERC ride season.

The results weren't entirely what I was hoping for, but we had a good time anyway.

This was the first time I've ever "trailer pooled" with another rider. What started this was my friend, Alex Collier, who is currently in New Mexico, was also hoping to get in another ride or two. So the initial plan was I would bring Demon and Halo, the horse she has been riding owned by TJ Davis, and we'd meet at the ride. Well, then TJ decided she'd really like to go, too. And there was another rider, Mari, who was hoping to get in another ride or two. So in the end, TJ packed up her 4 horse LQ, loaded Halo and Pazzport, and picked up me, Demon, and Trey.

Trey had done so well at Bill Thornburgh, and was looking so fit, I thought it would be pretty cool for him to complete a 50. This ride was a good choice for a first 50, being largely flat and good footing, so Trey could be expected to do well barefoot (as the ride's name suggests, hoof protection is not especially necessary).

Travel to the ride was a bit more eventful than anticipated, but that's a story for another time. Suffice to say, we persevered! We arrived in camp late morning on the Friday...

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Thursday, November 16, 2023

2023 Lead, Follow, or Get Out Of My Way Endurance Ride - Julie Figg

November 15 2023
By Julie Figg

Yes, those are cactus in the background and no, we are not in our usual backyard. Rudy and I travelled to McDowell Mountain for the endurance ride that was put on last weekend.

I've always wanted to participate in this event but since Sprite, my other Appy, gets such a heavy coat, like a wooly mammoth, I never went. Well, situation changed and this year Rudy is mature enough to handle a few more rides so last Thursday we packed up and headed to Phoenix. Overnighted at Summer Sage Stables in Flag, which, BTW, is a fabulous place to stay.

I'd entered the 75 as I wanted to see how Rudy did riding at night. I've done a few night rides and really enjoy the trail in the darkness. It is magical, a little terrifying at times and totally fun. Our goal was not to burn trail but have a nice steady ride and finish.

The ride started at 6 am and there were only 2 other riders in the 75. At this time of the morning It was still 0darkthirty. Since Rudy can sometimes get a bit excited at the start, like moving sideways and getting all silly, I opted to let the other 2 go ahead. Good move as the single track trail was lined with cactus of every sort. I could just imagine the explosion we'd have if we brushed a chola cactus bundle. So with the other 2 out of earshot we trotted out on a nice loose rein.

I was told the first loop can be a bit rocky on the out and back. Yes, they were right however the scene of the sun coming up over the mountains was absolutely beautiful. Since Rudy is not exactly tinker bell we had to take it slow on the rocky section. We finished the first 26 mile loop in exactly 4 hours. Right on track to finish around 8 pm, my goal.

Hold was uneventful, Rudy pulsed in with a 48 and all A's. I knew the challenge would be coming though and it didn't involve trail, it would be the heat. I'd clipped his neck and a bit of his flank but living at 6800 feet and having feet of snow in the winter lends any horse to grow a thick winter coat.

I did not want a metabolic pull, not a cloud in the sky and was pushing 80 degrees so the next loop I rode accordingly. Taking care not to overdo Rudy I sponged at every tank and walked stuff I'd normally trot. Coming into the hold after 24 miles Rudy pulsed in at 44/36! I was surprised the vet Susan took the 2nd pulse after the down and back but she was doing it for everyone. By the look on her face I almost thought something was wrong but when she said, hmm what is 9 times 4 I knew it was the low HR!

Our out time was 4:32 so my plan was to get as many miles in I could before it got dark. Rudy thought otherwise, he is a horse when out in wide open space by himself can get a little unmotivated and poky. The next 9 miles he rode like a slug, I couldn't get him motivated. I knew I had plenty of horse under me but geez! That's ok, I rode the horse I had and at this point I didn't want to upset the apple cart. The sunset was gorgeous and the lights of Phoenix were off in the distance, what a sight! The trail lights looked like small fireflies and without them I'd have been sunk. The small white ribbon of trail was visible enough that I didn't use my flashlight however with its twists and turns Rudy and I spent the time trotting/walking.

At mile 16 or so at the hay and water stop there was a trail volunteer out there with COOKIES! OMG what an inspiration, I thanked her profusely and enjoyed my snack. Rudy chowed down on some beautiful green alfalfa and at this point I knew we could get this ride in the bag.

Onward we went and the next couple of miles were uneventful. Mind you, I'd been hearing coyotes howling in the distance on and off all night but I was surprised to hear them now so close! Little bastards started to follow me, I could tell as their little yippy howls were staying behind me. I've been tracked before by a coyote at my brother in law's place but not by 3 or 4 of them. I finally turned around and screamed at them something not repeatable and shined my bright light their way. This got them off my tail, thankfully! They were probably just curious about what was tromping around in their world in the darkness. I never felt spooked by their presence, it was just weird.

Crossing the road Stephanie DuRoss was there to greet me and offer up hay and water for my pony and encouragement and a snack for me! What a treat! It was great to hear I only had about 4 miles to go! The lights of camp never looked so good! We finished around 9 pm with all A's and a HR of 44.

What a well run ride! The vets were fantastic and the whole event was beyond well run. Loved the dinner on Friday and the ride meeting was the best. Trails were super well marked and water and hay plentiful. Thank you for such a super event, I'll be back! Oh, did the ride in Easyboots, have been using them all year on all my rides, a first. THANKS AGAIN TO ALL THAT PUT THIS RIDE ON, A CLASS EVENT!!!!

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

The Maiden Voyage of the S.S.S. Hillbillie Willie - Merri Melde

TheEquestrianVagabond blog - Full Story

November 2 2023
by Merri Melde

Super. Star. Standardbred. Hillbillie Willie takes a solo trip to the Weiser River Trail Halloween ride

The last ride of the season was going to be one big adventure: Willie’s first solo Endurance ride. He hadn’t trailered anywhere by himself since 2016, and he’s always had his bestest buddies with him at any ride he’s traveled to.

Loading, transport, and arrival went remarkably well to Cambridge, Idaho, 2.5 hours away… so, so far so good!

There were a few horses already in camp when we arrived at the fairgrounds, but the best distraction was: grass! Willie is not a voracious eater, but my goodness, he loves him some grass. He doesn’t get much of that living in the Owyhee desert. We spent a while grazing, and then I put him in a fairgrounds pen beside other quiet Endurance horses, and I never heard a peep out of Willie while I set up his pen at Regina’s trailer.

When I moved him to his trailer pen, a few more trailers had arrived, and Willie whinnied now and then, but he never ran his pen with anxiety, so I thought things were looking up. When Melissa and David drove in, I flagged them down to park next to us, as we’d all be riding the 50, and they’d finish before Willie and I did, so he’d always have new buddies close to him.

Due to this and that, I got approximately seven minutes of sleep Friday night, but that wasn’t because of Willie - I only heard a few whinnies out of him during the cold night. But come early morning, when people started bustling about in the dark and horses started waking up, Willie let loose. He whinnied every 30 seconds, for like an hour. When I went out to tie him to the trailer to saddle him up, he was uncharacteristically antsy, wiggling about with big wide eyes. This was the most worked up he’d been at the start of a ride in years, which made me a bit nervous. What was he going to be like mounting, and starting on the trail?...

Read the rest here:

Thursday, November 02, 2023

2023 AERC Young Rider National Championship! - Mollie Quiroz

By Mollie Quiroz
November 1 2023

This past weekend was one to remember! I was lucky enough to fly back to Auburn for a few days to compete at Camp Far West in the 75 mile Young Rider National Championship with Mack and ride the 50 the next day with Grit.

After spending the last few weeks helping getting everything organized for the race, I was thrilled for the chance to actually get to ride. Mack’s had a big season this year. He did 2 50s to start our season, came in 10th place at Tevis in a very competitive field, and came in 2nd place in the Virginia City 100 7 weeks later also among a highly competitive field. Since VC in September, Mack has been resting in anticipation for our season finale which was the Young Rider National Championship at Camp Far West.

Although the field was small, we knew it would be a super competitive group and that I would have to ride smart and stick to our plan in order to be successful.

I got on Mack early Saturday morning and got him all warmed up so we’d be ready to go once the trail opened. I started the day with Reyna Mero and we moved along at a brisk pace but had a great time talking and exchanging stories. Our horses went together really well and we had a similar ride strategy. We were a few minutes behind Sanoma, who was in first, when we came into the first vet check.

The horses pulsed and vetted and before we knew it, it was time to head back out. We went out on our second loop and once again had a great time. The horses looked great and felt really good.

We came into the second vet check, pulsed, vetted, and I was able to discuss the rest of my ride plan with Sam during my hold. Once I got cleared to go, we decided that it was time for me to start to make my move. Mack and I’s competitive side had kicked in, especially after a comment about how we would never catch first place. I knew I had a lot of horse left but I was curious to see how Mack would handle the speed increase over the next two loops.

Mack and I took off out of the vet check to chase down Sanoma who was 5 minutes ahead of me. We started passing people doing the 50 and the 30 which only motivated Mack more. A couple miles in we saw Sanoma and the chase was on. We caught her and rode into the next check with her. Mack ended up pulsing one minute ahead of her horse and that was all we needed!

It came time to go out on our last loop and the race was on! Mack never let off the gas and he felt fantastic. We came across the finish line in 1st place, a good ten or so minutes ahead of the next rider. Mack vetted through and we had officially won the Young Rider National Championship! The icing on the cake was finding out later that night that Mack also won High Vet Score and Best Condition by around 200 points!! It was the perfect end to our season.

Sunday morning came early and that meant it was time to go back out for the 50 mile ride with Tierney and Ryan. I got the chance to take Grit for a spin again and had so much fun! I led the girls through the first loop and that was it! I put them in front and they paced us wonderfully through the ride. They worked together when it came to leading and setting the pace. I was so proud of them and amazed at how far they’d come in the last year. The horses looked great and they took great care of them throughout both days.

The three of us took home 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place with Tierney winning the overall Best Condition aware and Ryan winning the Junior Best Condition award. Thank you to Kimberly Ellis and Katie Stilwell Beloberk for trusting me to race with these awesome kids! They are truly incredible!

This weekend and this season would not have been possible without so many amazing people! First a huge thank you to John Brain and Brain Ranch Horseshoeing for keeping Mack’s feet happy all season long! He always felt so amazing and I never had to worry about his shoes!

Also a huge thank you to Dr. Jennifer Elizabeth Mayfield for being the incredible vet that she is. Without her we wouldn’t have been able to get to the bottom of the issues Mack has had in the past and I can’t say enough about how amazing she has been with getting him to where he is now.

Another big thank you to Cara Choy for ensuring that Mack felt his best all season! It all came together this past weekend and we couldn’t have done it without Cara!

We also want to give a big thank you to Specialized Saddles for donating such an amazing award for 1st place! We primarily ride in Specialized and it’s always been a dream to win one and this ride provided me with that opportunity!

Thank you to Shawn and Lisa Bowling and Crater Hill Equestrian for everything they do for us! They not only put on the ride and gave us this chance, but also encouraged us and cheered us on throughout the season and made it all possible!

And my biggest thank you goes to Samantha Ellis for pushing us this season to reach our goals and then some, but also encouraging Mack and I to keep pushing and working endlessly to get to the bottom of any concerns I had about Mack. We couldn’t have this without you and I’m so happy we were able to bring it home

Now Mack gets the next 6 months off to rest and recover and just be a horse. He’s more than earned it!

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

2023 Man Against Horse - Virginia Jenkins

by Virginia Jenkins
October 30 2023

Molly and I were looking to squeeze in one more ride this season as we weren't quite ready for it to end. So, off we went to Man Against Horse! I had always heard of this ride, but had never had the opportunity to go. We saw they had belt buckles as completion prizes and sent our entries within the hour.

Flite has been the star of the show this season, but I have been consistently riding Shaw while Flite rested. We did the LD at Buffalo Creek in August and he did so well that I decided to throw him into a 50 for this ride so I could sneak in a first year towards decade. I made this decision with the most ignorant view despite everyone's cautions, "Oh, it won't be that hard. We're from the MOUNTAIN region. Arizona can't have anything on our mountain rides, it'll be a breeze!"

Well. We were humbled. When Arizona says they climb a mountain, they climb a damn mountain. All. The. Way. To. The. Top.

Shaw and Joey started out a little fiery for the first 5 miles or so and then settled into a nice pace. Shaw had that excited face of a toddler and was giving it all he had while still being respectful of my rating.

We got up the first climb pretty easily and thought we had our suspicions confirmed that this wasn't ACTUALLY a hard ride and this must be the mountain they're talking about. At this point, Joey kept acting like he was dying and would stop in the middle of the trail. Shaw led us a ways until Princess Joey could find the will (or force) to continue through his hunger.

We rolled into the first vet check and vetted through easily. I had popped a cable on one of Shaw's hind renegades, but it miraculously didn't budge for about 10 mile so I had to figure out that situation during the 30 minute hold.

Luckily, Cathy had a magic bag full of renegades and loaned me the perfect size. I decided to try to work with the broken boot as long as I could so I wouldn't put much wear on Cathy's boot. Molly had some electrical tape in her bag, so I wrapped it up and put the spare in my bag. It stayed on almost the whole ride until I was foolish enough to take it off not realizing the roll of tape must've fallen out of the saddle bag.

While we were at this first check, a volunteer saw us put our coolers on and said, "If you need those here, you'll definitely need them at the top."

Hahaha, sure. You mean the top of the next "mountain" we'll climb? Should be EASY.

We moseyed on out of the check and this is where Shaw was really confused about what we were doing in the middle of nowhere, so far from the temporary semblance of home that was base camp. Despite, he plodded along behind Joey, our fearless leader.

This road went on FOREVER. The last ride I did was Virginia City and I kept saying, "Why all these ROCKS?"

When they say it's rocky, you should believe them.

We kept thinking that if we were reaaaally going up a mountain, we'd have to start heading up soon since there were only a few miles to the vet check. More proof it wasn't going to be a real mountain. That peak ahead of us isn't feasible. Well, we got to Check 6: The Oasis. Here, they burst our bubble. We asked how far to the vet check and they said, "A couple miles, but you're headed up there." He pointed to the top of the mountain that we had NO idea would really be the trail. We gulped and continued onward.

This part of the trail was absolutely insane. I trailed most of it and at point point Joey was going very fast and Shaw was chasing him, but I couldn't see much of the terrain because I was sprinting over it too fast trying to keep up. Molly later said she closed her eyes during that part 😂

I continued to tail and Molly hiked since Joey is above tailing. We passed a runner and he said, "Only 1000ft to go!" WHAT? We've already climbed so much, how do we still have 1000ft?? On we went.

We swapped positions so Molly could tail off of Shaw and we continued to climb the mountain. I finally couldn't go any further without being a hindrance, so we both mounted up. Up ahead we saw the boulders we were told about. I heard Molly behind me say, "That can't be the trail, right?"

Yup, here we go! Shaw navigated it expertly like he'd been doing endurance for decades. We got to the top and into the next check nicely, but were still in shock because of the literal mountain we climbed and how well our boys did. We left that check with 17 miles (I think) to go and it was pretty uneventful down the mountain. We got to the flat area close to camp at the boys had enough gas to canter in and ask to go faster.

We both finished and earned our fancy buckles. It sure was an accomplishment and I definitely have another talented endurance horse on my hands. I am wildly impressed with him! Can't wait to see where we go next! Thanks for the adventure, Molly!